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Book Review: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

Book Details

BOOK NAMEThe Dutch House
AUTHORAnn Patchett
CATEGORYFiction, Historical Fiction
PUBLISHERBloomsbury Publishing
PUBLISHING DATE24 September 2019
DIMENSIONS20.3 x 25.4 x 4.7 cm

The Dutch House Review

The night my book club discussed Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto some ten years ago, I clutched my copy of that novel to my chest like a companion animal and huffed and puffed away, defensively, every time a woman in the group grumbled “so unbelievable” and “that ending!” Who were they, those wenches, to speak ill of a book I adored about love and opera?

Later, on various telephone calls, my sister (another devoted reader and reviewer) frequently gave the beast a poke, belaboring, yet again, my recommendation of Bel Canto to her. Why had I recommended this far flung tale of messy plot points and undeveloped characters to her?


Then came the night at book club when we discussed Patchett’s State of Wonder. I was so stricken with jungle love, I was practically sitting there with my Pinot Noir, burning up with malaria. When one of the ladies mentioned the COMPLETELY IMPLAUSIBLE ending, I felt a small flutter of doubt in my heart. . . yes, it’s true, the ending was bad, but, but, but. . . The jungle! Okay, there was the scene with that kid and that scene on the dock that made absolutely no sense, but, but. . . The jungle!

So, I started The Dutch House with a big smile on my face. I even purchased a new hardcover copy (almost unheard of for me), and jumped right in to Patchett’s characteristically readable prose and her memorable one-liners.

Oooooh, a mansion! Well, that’s as appealing as an opera house or a jungle that holds the promise of sex!

But the doubts came quickly with this one.

Why were the two protagonists, siblings Maeve and Danny, just sitting outside the house like two cardboard cutouts? Why weren’t we ever getting inside their heads, instead of having the story narrated TO US? Was I ever going to know these two people? Was this, like, a play?

Wait, wait. . . why were they still sitting there, but two pages ago they were teens and now one is married and the other is graduated and working now. Wait, wait. . . he has kids? But I never even knew him to kiss a girl! Was this, like, a play about time travel?

And then. . . when the 53-year-old father, Cyril Conroy, dies and leaves his two motherless children without a will. . . well, folks, I CRIED FOUL. I looked right at my book and declared NO.

Not only was Cyril Conroy a REAL ESTATE MOGUL worth God knows how much money, one of his best friends was a LAWYER who not only had drawn up a very detailed educational trust for his kids. . . but Mr. Conroy, being the owner of so many buildings in Pennsylvania and New York, was, in fact, so legally minded, that he once “paid a man from the American consulate to meet [their mother’s] ship in Bombay. He’d mailed the divorce papers and the man took my mother straight to the consulate and had her sign them in front of a notary.”

And, get this, the next line is: “ALL VERY LEGAL.” (page 288, in case you’re interested in details)

Cyril Conroy was known for being a stickler, the type of man who crossed his “i’s” and dotted his “t’s.” This was not a man who would be remiss in having his lawyer draw up a very thorough will for his motherless children.

To quote Maeve from the book: “Did that really happen?”

To quote Danny from the book: “Are you making this up?”

As far as I am concerned, the entire premise of this story is tragically flawed, right from the start.

The novel, in my opinion, also makes the mistake of being approximately 100 pages too long, and suffers from almost no real character development. As readers, we are TOLD everything, like a Greek tragedy, narrated aloud. We SEE almost nothing here, but two mannequins sitting in a car, exchanging some clever dialogue.

I will tell you this: I will not be the reader with stars in her eyes, when my book club discusses this one.

Ann Patchett on The Dutch House

The Dutch House Summary

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett | Book Review

About Author Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett (born December 2, 1963) is an American author. She is the author of seven novels and three works of non-fiction. She has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction three times; with The Magician’s Assistant in 1998, winning the prize with Bel Canto in 2002, and was most recently shortlisted with the State of Wonder in 2012. She is also the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. She is the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, Karl.

The Dutch House

So, I started The Dutch House with a big smile on my face. I even purchased a new hardcover copy (almost unheard of for me), and jumped right in to Patchett's characteristically readable prose and her memorable one-liners.


Author: Ann Patchett

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